by Cindy Knoebel
On April 2, Freedom for Immigrants launched its COVID-19 hotline and began tracking reports from individuals and the media on its interactive immigration Detention Map.
Since then, FFI volunteers have fielded hundreds of calls; from April 15 to 22, FFI's hotline received 661 calls, an increase of 66 over the prior week. Vital information received from these calls and other sources are available on the map and grouped into eight categories:
- facilities with confirmed COVID-19 cases
- quarantine/isolation implemented
- visitation/communications barriers
- lack of sanitation/hygiene
- inadequate medical response/health services
- organizing for COVID-19 response in detention
- ICE retaliation in response to COVID-19 organizing
- accommodations for visitation/communications
In its latest COVID-19 in ICE in Custody Report released today, FFI notes that confirmed cases in detention facilities have more than tripled, to 425, since its last report on April 15.
The report contains dozens of accounts from within and outside detention centers on the impact of the deadly virus on the more than 32,000 immigrants currently in ICE custody.
Below are just a few updates contained in the current report:
- ICE appears to be underreporting COVID-19 test results at several facilities. For example, on April 19, officials in Essex County, NJ began conducting tests among detained people at the Essex County Correctional Facility. Results indicated that 20 immigrants tested positive and 43 had antibodies present, directly contradicting ICE's official report of only two positive cases.
- ICE has conducted only limited tests to date, but the results are alarming: 60% of people tested had contracted COVID-19. A new model on transmission rates within detention centers concludes that between 72% and 100% of people in these facilities will be infected within 90 days.
- On April 20, a federal judge in California ordered ICE to conduct custody reviews to identify those medically vulnerable to the virus, and facilitate their release. In the meantime, the FFI report notes, ICE has continued to transfer people from facilities with confirmed cases of COVID-19 to facilities in other states - facilities which subsequently showed a jump in cases. Reports of people still in detention despite having pre-existing conditions that make them vulnerable to infection continue to pour into FFI.
- Reports of medical neglect are building; the highest number of reports - 45 - documented by FFI's interactive Detention Map relate to medical issues and neglect. Between April 15 and April 22, FFI received 27 calls to its hotline regarding medical issues. Several reports confirm that when people report COVID-19 symptons, they are simply given Tylenol or Advil.
- People in detention centers across the county are rightly demanding testing, PPE, treatment, access to soap and sanitizers - and release. But reports have surfaced at several facilities, including the Pine Praire ICE Processing Center (LA), Catahoula Correction Center (LA), Stewart Detention Center (FL) and Otay Mesa Detention Center (CA) of ICE using pepper-spray and even tear gas against those who have protested.
In summary, the report notes, "ICE fails to observe even basic public health protocols to mitigate against causing people inside their facilities to get the virus. In many cases, the agency willfully continues actions - including transfers without any known screening or testing - that will likely accelerate harm and put at risk the people who are in their custody while undermining public health officials' efforts to 'flatten the curve' and preserve hospital capacity."
FFI continues to call on ICE to use all existing mechanisms at its disposal to release those in its custody, including release on recognizance, parole and into community-based post-release support programs.